Prof. Karol Grela – Winner of the FNP Prize 2014
Professor Karol Grela, PhD habil. Eng., (b. 1970 in Warsaw) is a chemist working on the synthesis of organic and organometallic compounds. A graduate of the Faculty of Chemistry at the Warsaw University of Technology (1994), he obtained his PhD (1998), postdoctoral degree (2003) and the title of professor (2008) at the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He spent 1999-2000 on a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Mülheim an der Ruhr.
He heads the Organometallic Synthesis Laboratory of the Biological and Chemical Research Centre of the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Warsaw as well as working part-time at the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is a member of the Polish Chemical Society and an honorary member of the Israel Chemical Society.
He has received numerous awards and honours for scientific achievement, including a stipend for young researchers from the Foundation for Polish Science (1998), the Prime Minister’s Prize for the best PhD (1999), an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (1999), the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Włodzimierz Kołos Award (2003), the Prime Minister’s Prize for the best postdoctoral degree (2004), the Polish Chemical Society’s Maria Skłodowska-Curie Prize and the German Chemical Society’s Wilhelm Klemm Prize (2007), the FNP’s MISTRZ academic grant for professors (2007) and TEAM programme grant (2009), the Minister of Science and Higher Education Prize in the “research for scientific development” category (2009), the Prime Minister’s Prize for scientific achievement (2010).
Professor Karol Grela’s output includes over 120 scientific publications and 12 patents protected in a few dozen countries around the world. His research has found many practical applications. He works closely with the pharmaceutical industry, for example, and is a member of Polpharma S.A.’s Scientific Advisory Board among other posts.
Professor Karol Grela, PhD habil. Eng. received the FNP Prize 2014 in the chemical and materials sciences for developing new catalysts for olefin metathesis reactions and applying them in industrial practice.
The FNP Prize recognizes Professor Karol Grela’s research on catalysts used in olefin metathesis reactions (exchange of double bonds); olefins are compounds from the unsaturated hydrocarbons group which contain one or more double chemical bonds between carbon atoms. Catalysts are compounds that help considerably accelerate chemical processes, improving their efficiency and selectiveness while reducing the amount of produced waste etc.
The carbon-carbon double bond in olefins is one of the most useful elements in the structure of organic compounds. It can be used to build all kinds of organic skeletons and, due to its high chemical reactivity, is one of the most important functional groups used in numerous chemical transformations. Due to these extensive possibilities, over the past 150 years chemists have sought new ways of obtaining olefins. A completely new way of obtaining these extremely important chemical compounds was invented in recent decades: metathesis (for this achievement, three chemists – Yves Chauvin, Robert Grubbs and Richard Schrock – received the Nobel Prize in 2005).
Professor Grela and his associates have focused on the optimization of olefin metathesis reactions, i.e. seeking ways to conduct them in a way that is safe for the environment, combines high efficiency with the possibility of conducting them in mild conditions (at ambient or lower temperature or in a water solution, for example) and with tolerance for numerous, often very reactive functional groups. A catalyst, meanwhile, should be as cheap as possible, easy to recover after a reaction as well as being highly active and stable.
All these important problems and challenges have been identified and in many cases also solved by Professor Grela’s group. The research he leads has resulted in many new catalysts: complex ruthenium compounds thanks to which the metathesis process can be individually regulated (“tuned”) for countless applications, both in academic organic chemistry and in industry (e.g. in the production of new drugs, new polymer materials and recipes for new fuels based on renewable input materials).
International recognition for Professor Grela’s achievements is proved, among other things, by the fact that one of the catalysts he developed and commercialized is known in the literature as the “Grela catalyst” while his team is considered a world leader among research groups working in this field.